Overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health, addiction as students return to the classroom

Almost one in five adults lives with a mental illness, and one in five children aged 13-18 have or will have one.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If you struggle with mental health issues, you’re not alone. Nearly one in five adults lives with a mental illness, and one in five children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

In addition, substance use disorders and other mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, sometimes occur together, but this does not mean that one caused the other.

As students head back to school for the 2022-2023 school year, 10TV sat down with Dr. Amina Kemavor, Vice President of Advocacy and Engagement for the Franklin County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board, to discuss how parents can deal with mental health problems in children to try to prevent substance abuse.

Kiona Dyches: As a parent or carer, what is the first step you should take to protect your child’s mental health?

Dr. Kemavor: “We want to think properly about home, so our environment is something we take in, and what we take in comes out of us eventually. And so being able to model health and wellness in the home is key. “

Dyches: How can you help your child who may be dealing with mental health issues when they return to school?

Dr. Kemavor: “If you find that your child is challenged in their ability to live, laugh, and love, then there may be some underlying things going on. First, you need to communicate with your child regularly, you know, to and from school, extracurricular activities, learning how to have difficult conversations you know about things that might be going on in your child’s life, keeping in touch with their teachers , their education, staff, their coaches.”

Dyches: What types of behavior would let you know your child has a mental health problem?

Dr. Kemavor: “Behavior can look like eating more or less than before, sleeping more or less than before, possible changes in behavior at home or at school such as in the classroom, changes in academic performance, changes with extracurricular sports, even some mood swings or outbursts. Most of all, if your child begins to withdraw socially from their friends or activities and isolate themselves, this would be a cause for concern.

Dyches: How do you know when it’s time to seek professional help?

Dr. Kemavor: “In this life and laughter and love, it’s really important to just trust your instincts. You know your child, so be observant of how he experiences his world. Do you know what you might be going through right now? Have they recently suffered a loss? Do they process a breakup? Are they processing a friendship that maybe, you know, didn’t go the way they intended? And then we also want to make sure that if there’s a history of mental illness in our families, then we want to make sure that we recognize that as well.”

Dyches: What should you do if it appears your child has started abusing substances to cope with mental health challenges?

Dr. Kemavor: “Just take a breath. First, take a moment and process something you suspect is actually happening and do some of those key monitoring checks. Do you know what your child is going through in their life right now? Is there a genetic factor that may contribute to this alleged use? And in addition to that, if you choose to approach your child, do so from a very non-judgmental, open, non-blaming prism, we want the best possible outcome from this particular conversation.”

Dyches: Are some people more vulnerable when it comes to mental health challenges and substance abuse?

Dr. Kemavor: “Mental illness can, you know, start to manifest in infancy as well as in those formative teenage years, especially in the age group of about 18 to 25 years. But instead of being more prescriptive about what exactly you know, age, my child is that he might have a mental illness or, you know, be involved in substance use, it’s really again that observational lens, like paying attention to that how your child reacts to his actual environment. does not discriminate. So no one gets away with it, right? It’s something that can happen to any of us at any point in our lives, it really just depends on a number of factors that may not be genetics or environment, it may just be what we’re exposed to , which we just didn’t know would have such an impact on us. And then things take a different turn.

10TV is partnering with the Ohio Opiate Alliance to help “break the stigma” surrounding mental health and addiction.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental health or addiction, or would like to learn more about the stigma surrounding them, visit beatthestigma.org for more information.

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